The Last Theorem

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Written for the partyparrot...

Written for the partyparrot

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The Last Theorem

Numbers tumbled from the man's lips, the pale morning sunlight oblivious to his mutterings. A cup of tea appeared by the young woman's elbow and she jumped in surprise.

"Hypnotic isn't it?" said the old lady, smiling as she sat down next to her muttering son. "He doesn't always say the numbers out loud, but if you look into his eyes, you can see his brain's still ticking away. "Do you take sugar, Miss Miles?"

"Callie, please, and no, just with milk is fine."

The girl took a sip of the tea, and let the warmth of the china soak into her hands as she glanced around the room. A picture on one wall caught her eye and she studied it for a few seconds.

Catching the direction of her gaze, the old woman spoke softly over the numerical background noise. "That was when Derek and I appeared on Astounding Worlds on the BBC, back in 1983. Derek was only ten then."

She turned to her son, and placed a biscuit in the middle aged man's hand. "Snack, Derek," she said, and the man stopped muttering for a few moments, mechanically chomping through the dark Bourbon biscuit.

"He always did like a biscuit."

Callie took another sip of her tea to give herself space to think. "So what happened to your son, Mrs Taylor? He seems ok in the picture there."

"He was, mostly. And in many ways he still is. He eats, drinks, sleeps, even responds occasionally, but most of the time he's lost in a sea of numbers and equations." The old woman glanced out of the window as a couple of children chased by, their shouts quickly eclipsed by a complicated series of equations spilling from her son's lips.

"Derek was always different from the other boys. When other lads liked getting muddy, or playing with lego, Derek was fascinated by numbers. He could count before he could say 'Mummy' or 'Daddy'. My husband, Lord rest his soul, used to take him down the pub, and Derek would score the darts matches even at three years old. By seven he was doing maths at university level, and he could do amazing sums in his head. But the better he got, the more distant he became. The local paper heard about him, and eventually we ended up on Astounding Worlds, where Derek was thrown all sorts of problems live on screen, all of which he solved.

"Except the last one.

"There was a mathematician in the audience, and he described something called Fermat's Last Theorem to Derek, and challenged him to solve it."

"Oh."

"Yes, I thought you might've heard of that one dear. He's been like this ever since."

"He's been working through that theorem in his head for over thirty years?"

"Yes."

"Oh my word." Callie slumped back into her chair, shocked, the only sounds in the room, the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece, and Derek's continued numerical mumblings.

"I'm not sure what to say Mrs Taylor, other than I'm very sorry. Is there something you think I can help you with though? I assume you asked me here for a reason."

"Yes, Callie, there is." The old woman sat forward, her eyes shining with excitement. "I recently found out about a proof of the Last Theorem, one approved by the world's best mathematicians. The local university told me that you were their best, and they kindly gave me a copy of Sir Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Theory: one hundred and fifty pages of mathematical mumbo jumbo.

"I have no idea what it means, but you do." A wrinkled hand grasped the younger woman's smooth unblemished one. "Will you help me?"

"But how?"

"Derek is trying to do everything in his head. It took the mathematical community over three hundred and fifty years to solve it, and even then they had computers and calculators and checkers, and people to talk to. My Derek has me, and I can't do this on my own anymore." She looked out of the window, blinking back tears. "I want my son back Callie, and the only way I think I will get him back is when he's found an answer."

She waved the thick printout under Callie's nose. "This is the answer, but I can't read it to him because I don't understand it. You can."

"Five, nine, three, two, seven, no, no no." The counting stopped and Derek reached for his mother's hand bowing his head. A few seconds later, he stared out of the window again, eyes distant and lost, and his fingers drummed against the padding of his armchair.

The repetitive thudding echoing through the room and Callie watched Derek for a few moments. She lifted her empty teacup. "May I have another cup of tea please, Mrs Taylor? I think I have some reading to do."

"Certainly dear, I'll put the kettle on."

As the old woman walked into the kitchen, Callie picked up the printout and started to read. Derek's fingers stilled. As the old woman listened, Derek's voice lifted to join in the younger woman's and a complex mathematical duet played a counterpoint to the bubbling of the kettle.

The pale sunlight outside remained oblivious, both to the smiling woman pouring the tea, and the salvation of a lost mind.

~~ The End ~~

Written for the Partyparrot Writeathon at Wattpad HQ on Feb 26th 2016. A day where all staff at HQ were challenged to write something. 

I actually woke up on the morning I wrote this story with the idea bubbling away in Brian. Unusually for me I did write a short story in one go, in one day. 

Fermat's theorem has been the source of many stories (see video clip), and even gets a mention in The Simpsons. The title The Last Theorem is a nod to a great story by Clarke and Pohl, where the main character actually finds a proof to the theorem, although it has now been proven by Sir Andrew Wiles, mentioned in the story. 

And there used to be a pub locally called Fermat's Number. 

I love a good geek. 

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